With seconds left on the shot clock, Derek Hinen’s face radiated relief and excitement, a stark difference from the intense look that he wore most of the forty minutes of the narrow 75-68 win against Asbury University Nov. 15.
Holding off the 2013 NCCAA National Champions, Ohio Christian University, to get to the championship round of the Ness Brothers Hall of Fame, expectations were high for the young blooded Foresters to defend their title at home.
Welcomed with a standing ovation in Platt Arena, the Foresters hung with the Eagles through most of the first half. An aggressive Asbury team quickly capitalized on Huntington’s defensive missteps to slowly widen their lead. Sophomore Kyle Pipenger threw in a rebound to tie the game at 30-30, but once again Asbury sank deadly shots to keep its distance, ending the half 44-35.
Starting the second half sophomore Daniel Woll fired up his team, swatting away the ball from his Eagle opponent and adding the basket. Eagle CJ Penny landed a field goal while teammate Jordan Gilbert fired up a trey to maintain their team’s dominance. Woll responded by laying down one of his notorious dunks. Hinen made back-to-back baskets, signaling the return of the Forester fire for which HU is known.
Drew Benedict landed a critical three to put the Foresters within three points with less than 10 minutes remaining. Freshman Trevor Lockwood tied the game at 66-66. With a total of seven ties and eight lead changes throughout the game, fans were kept on the edges of their seats.
After Hinen sinking a two-point shot and Pipenger dropping a three, the Foresters began to slowly distance themselves. Only after the technical foul on Asbury’s Penny could the Foresters breathe easily with the slim cushion that allowed them to pull out the narrow win in order to defend their Hall of Fame crowns.
The game was a physical one with Asbury at 20 fouls and HU tallying 19, which often required the Foresters to combat the constant double team on Hinen.
Benedict, the 5’9” sophomore, said that playing hard despite the height differential is part of what leads to success on the court.
“You just have to play hard,” Benedict said. “You got to be physical. If someone comes out and posts you up, you have to trust your teammates and be tough.”
Hinen paced the Foresters with 25 points. Woll added 24 while being the top rebounder for HU, grabbing 10 boards.
Woll believes that the comeback by the young team has been a good confidence booster.
“With a team as young as ours, we displayed our willingness to fight back and play together as a team to come out with a huge win for us in the Ness Brothers Championship game,” he said. “It’s a huge confidence booster and just a great way to go forward from now on throughout the season.”
Head coach Ty Platt believes his young blooded squad learned from the close call.
“It’s about growing pains, if you will, for us this year,” Platt said. “Asbury’s a very good team. [Pulling out the win] proves that we have talent, we just need to gel together. I thought we did a good job of making the extra passes the second half and we stayed after [the ball] defensively a little better in the second half.”
Platt was pleased with his freshmen’s performance as they contributed valuable defense and helped generate offensive momentum as well, most notable Lockwood with nine points to his credit.
“That’s vital,” he said. “So much of our team is young, and it’s time that they grow up. We know what’s coming. In a week and a half we start our league, and it’s a brutal one. We have to use games like this as a stepping stone.”
Not only did the Foresters celebrate reclaiming their Hall of Fame crown, a feat not accomplished since HU took back-to-back wins in 2009-2010, but they also had two team members named to the All Tourney Team. Woll received his second Hall of Fame nomination with Pipenger receiving his first all tourney team honor. Meanwhile, Hinen was lauded the Tournament MVP.
The Foresters’ (6-1) next test of stamina was Nov. 18 against Wilberforce